By: Megan Colwell
The purpose of this term paper is to examine the narrowing gender gap trend in Victoria, Australia in comparison to the widening gender gap of Australia as a whole. According to the World Economic Forum, Australia currently ranks at number 24 on the latest gender gap index in comparison to the 2006 index when it was ranked 15. On the contrary, statistics show that Victoria’s gender gap is actually narrowing, contradicting the trends of the continent as a whole. The paper looks into how Australia can take Victoria as an example for reform in regards to gender equality. The gender gap index bases it’s rankings on economic, political, educational, and health-based criteria, therefore, this paper used this criteria to look at Victoria’s success at gender equality and how Australia can apply different aspects of reform from Victoria to it’s own widening gender gap issue. Several articles on the gender gap in Australia and Victoria were analyzed in order to make the conclusion that more organizations that regulate gender equality in the workplace are necessary to ensure that equality is enforced through Australian law. In Victoria, The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) is example of an organization that has accreditation for workplace standards that have both assisted and attracted females to many organizations. Looking at the political success of Victorian women, a conclusion was also made that Australian society as a whole needs to become more inclusive to half of it’s population in order to make change in politics.
Comparison of Victoria’s Gender Gap with Australia as a Whole
Gender equality has yet to be reached by any country in the world. However, the gender gap in some areas of the world has decreased significantly, giving women more power politically, economically, and socially. Australia has some of the world’s most livable cities, a strong economy, and a very laid-back lifestyle. Looking at some of these characteristics of the country, one would think that Australia would be one of these areas in the world where gender equality is not a huge problem. However, the World Economic Forum currently ranks Australia at number 24 on the latest gender gap index (Australia Ranked). There are 110 countries that participate in the index every year, making number 24 not that great in the eyes of many Australians. In fact, in 2006 Australia was ranked 15th out of 136 countries, which means the gender gap is widening significantly (Australia Ranked). Looking at these statistics, it’s interesting to look specifically at the state of Victoria, where the gender gap is actually narrowing, contradicting the trends of the continent as a whole. Exploring the factors in Australia’s widening gender gap in comparison with Victoria’s narrowing gender gap will explain why these trends are occurring. Examining Victoria’s success in lessening the gap for gender equality can also shed light on how Australia as a whole can create reform in regards to gender.
Defining the term gender gap is an important step when looking at gender equality in regional areas. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, gender gap is the difference in opinions or attitudes between men and women concerning a variety of public and private issues, especially as reflected in social, political, intellectual, cultural, or economic attainments or attitudes. The World Economic Forum introduced the Global Gender Gap Report in order to provide a framework for apprehending the scope of gender-based disparities around the world (Schwab). This index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, educational, and health-based criteria to provide rankings between countries that take part in the survey (Schwab). According to the World Economic Forum, the rankings are designed to create greater awareness among a global audience of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them (Schwab).
This awareness was certainly exposed to Australia this year when the rankings revealed that Australia did not even make it in the top 20 rankings. Australia was part of the 14% of countries that have shown widening gender gaps, where as 86% of the countries involved have shown significant improvements in their gender gaps. The four areas that the index measured showed that although Australia came in first for the education ranking, it came in 69th for health and only 43rd for political empowerment (Australia Ranking). The latter ranking can be seen in the fact that Australia has had only one female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who was only in office for 3 years. The current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has also named only one female to his ministry, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Having women in political roles is a major step in narrowing the gender gap because of equal representation. Politics should represent all of a country’s inhabitants because making men and women evenly represented is important in decision making for a country as a whole. Women make up half the population, or more, thus they need other women represented in politics to defend their interests and needs.
Australia’s widening gender gap is not just limited to politics either; equal pay is also an issue for many Australian women. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA) latest report revealed that there is a 25% pay gap between females and males in the finance industry alone (Smith). In the corporate sector, women are paid a shocking 50% less than market average (Smith). The effect of this pay gap is that 2.2 million people in Australia are living in poverty, the majority being women working in service based industries (Smith). According the report mentioned above, the pay gap is a lot wider at the bottom of the corporate ladder, which explains why so many women in this work field are living in poverty (Smith). This pay gap is especially apparent in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math careers). In an article in the Australian, a national newspaper, Suzanne Cory, president of the Australian Academy of Science, recounts this issue in her personal accounts of being a woman working in the STEM field. According to Cory, the problem with careers in these fields is that the proportion of women holding senior level jobs is a very low percentage in all aspects of the STEM workforce (Cory). Women account for only 28% of academic appointments above the title senior lecturer while only 17% in the natural and physical sciences are women (Cory). Apparently, women are finding it harder to move forward in STEM careers. Cory believes this to be true because this next step occurs in their early thirties, “when family responsibilities kick in” (Cory). These duties make it difficult for women to advance in their field and compete with men who do not have these responsibilities due to typical gender roles reinforced in society. The lack of flexibility these jobs require often times force women to abandon their careers and shift to a job that offers more flexible hours and has a better work-life balance. Cory says that she was able to retain her career due to a supportive spouse who shared responsibilities, living close to her work and children’s schools, and continuing to have a passion for science (Cory). However, she notes that not all women can have it all like she did. She says there are no easy solutions to this problem, but we should start with building self-confidence in young girls through education and training, teaching them that it is unacceptable for them to let go of a dream to meet family responsibilities and typical gender roles.
Although a solution to the widening gender gap problem in Australia is not simple, one state has taken a step forward in the right direction. The 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership revealed that Victoria has the best record of gender diversity in the appointment of women to both board and executive positions, rating above the national average (Victoria). Helen Conway, Director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), says “Victoria has the highest proportion of female directors in both the ASX 200 and ASX 500, where 12.8% and 15.3% respectively are women. With 12.9% of executive positions held by women, Victoria is also the national leader for female executives in the ASX 200” (Victoria). Although these numbers seem low, in comparison with the other five states there are more women in leadership positions in Victoria. Appointing women in these roles is a defining step but according to corporate leader Dr. Ziggy Switkowski, the keynote speaker at the 2012 Census forum, “getting the balance right should be the objective” (Victoria).
This objective is certainly true for the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA). As the Australian Census of Women in Leadership pointed out, Victoria is leading the way for gender diversity and the VLGA is one organization at the forefront of this movement. In 2012 the association partnered with the Victorian Government to fund a project called Think Women for Local Government 2012, which aimed to build a diversity of women candidates in every municipality in the 2012 local government elections. The project has done a lot of good towards the equality of women in the past and present. After the 2012 election the number of women elected in an office position went up by 17% compared to the 2008 local Victorian election (TWLG). The number of women mayors also increased significantly in 2012. Out of the 78 mayors in Victoria, 30 were female, a 15% increase from 2011 (TWLG). Although the 2012 local Victorian elections are over, the website thinkwomenlg.org, owned by VLGA, continues to build awareness, support, and action for women in government roles. The site provides resources to get informed about current women candidates for the 2016 election and gives stories and insights into the life of a woman councilor from past candidates. It’s also a way to keep up the momentum of building the numbers and diversity of women in local government. The site is just one way that Victoria is paving the way for gender diversity in Australian society.
Another organization that calls for more women in local government as well as measures to combat discrimination against all women is the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) Victoria. The group is a long-term feminist non-party political lobby group, established in Melbourne, Victoria on February 27, 1972. The group is made up of mainly women who can contribute to discussion and strategies on the many issues facing women in Australia today. WEL hosts many conferences that shed light on women’s social and political engagement and is also a great political force in local governments. In June 2007, WEL, with other women’s organizations agreed that an expert committee be set up to implement the policy of Paid Parental Leave, taking into account those mothers who are self employed or who do not have paid work. With the political action of WEL, Paid Parental Leave was finally deemed legal in all of Australia (News). Although this group works on behalf of all of Australia, it began in Victoria with local women, which shows that this state is the leader in gender diversity for Australia as a whole.
Not only does Victoria lead the way for diversity in government, but Victorian workplaces are also taking real initiatives to ensure they are tapping into the whole talent pool. In 2012 the Equal Opportunities for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) recognized thirty-six Victorian employers with leading best practices in gender equality (Victorian). The Director of EOWA, Helen Conway, said “Australian business leaders are recognizing they need to attract the best people in order to be competitive and to achieve this they must develop strategies to target women” (Victorian). The EOWA accreditation for workplace standards has both assisted and attracted females to many organizations. This Employer of Choice for Women (EOCFW) citation given out to 125 organizations by the EOWA is intended to access an organization against rigorous criteria which consider the number of workplace issues including pay equity, women in executive management, flexibility, sex-based harassment, and career development training (Victorian). Also, the citation requires the organization’s CEO to be the driving force behind the culture, which supports the advancement of female employees (Victorian). Furthermore, the organizations awarded the EOCFW citation are invited to use the EOCFW logo in their recruitment advertising and other company promotional material which is how more females are encouraged to work for that company (Victorian). Therefore, the fact that Victoria had a large number of recipients for this citation is a big deal and illustrates how the state is blazing the trail in achieving equal opportunity for women in the workplace.
Looking at Victoria’s success in creating more gender diversity in local government and the workplace, Australia has a lot to learn about creating a more equal environment, socially, politically, and economically in the country as a whole. More organizations like the EOWA are necessary to ensure that gender equality is enforced through the laws. Creating citations like the EOCFW that actually reward businesses and organizations for having more women in the workforce and higher management positions is also essential for change to happen. As soon as companies realize that women play an important and beneficial role to the workplace is when equal opportunities for women is achieved. This also holds true for political appointments. Because women make up half of the population, as soon as Australians realize the effect that women have on society is when more women become part of the political system and can start making a change. Australia needs to look to Victoria as a model for gender equality.
“Australia Ranked 24th on Latest Gender Gap Index by World Economic Forum.” News.com.au. News Limited, 25 Oct. 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
Cory, Suzanne. “Gender Gap.” The Australian. News Corp Australia, 26 July 2013. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.
“Gender Gap”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
“News and Events.” WELVic. Womens Electoral Lobby Victoria, 2007. Web. 04 Dec. 2013.
Schwab, Klaus, Borge Brende, Saadia Zahidi, Yasmina Bekhouche, Annabel Guinault, and Amey Soo. “Global Gender Gap Report.” World Economic Forum, 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
Smith, Krista. “The Gender Pay Gap in Australia.” Woman.com.au. WOMAN.com.au Pty Ltd. 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
“TWLG Update #8: November – Post-election 2012.” Victorian Local Governance Association. Commonwealth Government of Australia, 26 Nov. 2012. Web. 04 Dec. 2013.
“Victoria Leads the Way for Gender Diversity.” Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Commonwealth Government of Australia, 28 Nov. 2012. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.
“Victorian Employers of Choice Focus on Female Talent.” Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Commonwealth Government of Australia, 15 Mar. 2012. Web. 04 Dec. 2013.
Megan Colwell graduated from St. Edward’s University in May of 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications and a Minor in Graphic Design. She currently resides in Austin, working as a Communications Manager and Assistant Designer for a small design agency called A Brand Studio. She hopes to one day go back to school for a masters degree in business in order to open up her own creative agency catered to non-profits.